It’s easy to get excited at this time of year in the grocery store. Behold the green bounty—ramps, fiddleheads, dandelion greens, burdock root, oh my!
But did you know that you can actually get many of these foods for FREE—potentially even in your own backyard? Yep, with a little know-how and some patience, wild foraging is a great way to eat on the cheap while reconnecting with your local ecosystem.
Before we start, foraging club has one primary rule: DO NOT EAT ANYTHING THAT YOU CANNOT IDENTIFY WITH 100% CERTAINTY! Eating the wrong plants can make you very sick—or worse. That’s why it is smart to gain some hands on experience by joining up with an expert-led wild foraging meetup (of which there are many, both in the Berkshires and beyond). It’s important to learn how to avoid overharvesting and forage sustainably—plus foraging is much more fun when you’re doing it as a group.
In the meantime, it doesn’t hurt to beef up your knowledge of the springtime foods in your own yard. Here are a few wild goodies to look out for that are definitely worth learning to identify (and nibbling)…
Odds are, you’ve seen these plants everywhere. Burdock plants have large, easily recognizable leaves and can often be found at the edge of parking lots, lawns, side walks, and tennis courts. But this unassuming weed is actually a powerhouse of nutrition. Burdock is packed with antioxidants and has been used to support detoxification. Just make sure to know what you’re looking for, as burdock root can resemble toxic plants light belladonna and nightshade.
In early to mid-spring, burdock’s long roots are delightfully tender and nutritious. You can boil/sauté/fry the sweet and earthy roots, which resemble a parsnip in texture. All you have to do for prep is dig them up, scrub, peel, and soak in cold water for about 20 minutes. Burdock root tempura, anyone?
These ubiquitous weeds are incredibly therapeutic to the liver—making them yet another powerful detoxifier! Harvested dandelion greens make a delicious and nourishing salad base, especially with a little cara cara, olive oil, and chevré. And the roots can be tasty when roasted, too. If you drink herbal teas, you’ve probably seen roasted dandelion root tea or coffee at the grocery store. Even the flower petals themselves are edible (In fact, everything is except for the stalk and the seeds.) If you really want to get wild, you can try your hand at making dandelion wine!
Originally introduced as an ornamental plant, this is actually a highly invasive species, so munch away on this one! It grows in bamboo-like canes in clear swaths along river banks, where it strangles out healthy natives like ferns. These plants are most palatable when 8 to 12 inches tall, otherwise they get woody.
Japanese knotweed is high in resveratrol, the antioxidant found in red wine, and surprise, they taste a little like rhubarb—looks like pie season might come early this year! Just make sure NOT to compost the scraps, as this plant can take new root from even the smallest clipping, which would only worsen the invasion.
These are often yanked out as a weed, but the tender leaves of lamb’s quarters are an excellent addition to your rotation of greens. The Vikings famously relied on these greens for sustenance, as they are super high in vitamins A and C. To enjoy, sauté or roast these tender leaves, as you would spinach. Seek out an expert for help identifying, as it can potentially be confused with less benign plants.
Foraging is a great opportunity to get to know the plants (invasive and non) in your own yard a little more intimately. Of course, only harvest wild foods from yards that are not sprayed with pesticides, herbicides, or other chemicals. Here at Nature Works, we specialize in chemical-free land care and are happy to help you cultivate an organic, clean outdoor living space so you can harvest native wild edibles. Just give us a call!
– Jordyn Cormier